Let’s be clear: this is not a documentary about The Who. If you don’t already know the history of the band, you don’t want to start with this movie.
But that’s not “Lambert and Stamp”s job. And it’s not to say it couldn’t be enjoyed by someone who doesn’t know or particularly like The Who, though it is at times a fucking mess to watch (we’ll get to that). No, this film’s focus is on a creative force we don’t otherwise hear about, which is a shame because they have more personality than certain band members (*ahem Roger Daltrey ahem*): Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, two charming young cinephiles who in 1963 took the fledgling band The High Numbers (as they were known at the time) under their wings in order to make an art film about managing a rock ‘n roll band. Art imitating life and all that. But again these were filmmakers, and with little to no knowledge of the music industry, my guess is they didn’t realize how successful they’d be at it.
The story revolves around the irresistible quality of the pair who met through film work in London, Lambert an Oxford-educated, upper-crust gay son of a classical composer; Stamp a working-class East Ender with a quick wit and filthy mouth (just my type). And in this most unlikely of matches, the stars aligned.
In less than five years the duo groomed those four deviants into some of the most famous deviants in rock history. It’s a tale we’ve heard before in Brian Epstein/The Beatles, Andrew Loog Oldham/The Stones, etc., but their shared vision and combined allure is what gave Lambert-Stamp that something special, something no one was immune to. Least of all themselves.
The problem with this film is that it’s just so damn disjointed; it was difficult even for me, as someone who does know the band’s story, to follow the trajectory of the timeline or see why certain segments were even included. And I know I started this piece off by saying it’s not a doc about The Who, but I still wanted to see a clearer picture of what these guys actually did to make them megastars, and instead we get miles and miles of “Oh yeah, their ideas were great! Everyone loved ‘em!” Tell me the damn ideas. There isn’t even a relevant comment on the 30-second footage of The Who’s Woodstock performance. And I’m pretty sure that’s, like, a rule about Woodstock footage.
While Chris Stamp is hugely entertaining even at the time of filming, some of his interview clips go on far too long, and some side stories become simply unnecessary when we find that the ending is a manic scramble to tie up loose ends. Keith Moon’s death is thrown sloppily in and Kit Lambert’s death three years later is barely even addressed. And at some point before all this everyone got pissy and hated each other and sued L&S for mismanagement. My date fell asleep.
But there are beautifully redeeming moments here too, like Pete Townshend trying out “Glittering Girl” on the two, who were regular and notable influences on Townshend’s composing, Lambert in particular. There’s also sweet footage of Lamp (that’s their celeb couple name, I just decided) meeting Jimi Hendrix for the first time, by whom they were so smitten that they created their own record label in order to produce him. The initiative on these gents! Lordy!
It’s a wild romp in the catalogues of music history, however disheveled the story arc and oddly incoherent the soundtrack. But this is still a Master class of a rockumentary, not a breezy VH1 Behind the Music. To enjoy something like “Lambert and Stamp” you have to go one step further than being a fan of the music. Ask yourself: Would The Who have become who they are without their seductive managers? Do I care?
You may not actually learn the answer to that, but you’ll know whether or not you want to spend two solid hours figuring it out.